On Monday, the Yale College Democrats issued its endorsement for this year’s mayoral primary, urging Yale students to support Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 in his campaign to unseat Mayor Toni Harp.
The student organization, which co-hosted Friday’s mayoral forum with Elicker and Harp in Sudler Hall, cited three primary reasons for its endorsement of Elicker over Harp — a three-term incumbent who faced little competition in her first two bids for re-election. The Dems lauded the transparency that Elicker has displayed in his campaign, and highlighted the former Alder’s focus on holding Yale increasingly accountable to New Haven. The endorsement recognized the progress that Harp has made through her six-year tenure, but pointed to Elicker as a force for progressive change.
“I’m excited to receive the endorsement of the Yale Dems,” Elicker told the News in the statement. “They have had a long history of activism in promoting progressive Democratic values in New Haven. I’m excited to work with them to engage more students in the city.”
On Sept. 10, New Haven voters will see both Elicker and Harp’s names on the Democratic primary ballots. Harp and Elicker first squared off in the 2013 election to replace then-mayor John DeStefano. Elicker lost to Harp in the primary and then ran unaffiliated in the general election — losing to Harp by about 10 percent of the total vote.
This time around, Elicker has positioned himself as a progressive antidote to a bureaucratic and stagnant Harp administration. In debates and forums, he has criticized the Harp administration for financial mismanagement and inefficient organizational structures within City Hall and its sub-organizations and affiliate programs.
Timothy White ’20, president of the Yale College Democrats, told the News that the endorsement was “initiated by the board” and involved the club’s members.
In the endorsement, the organization addresses the Yale student body specifically and prefaces its reasons for supporting Elicker with the understanding that, “as a Yale student organization,” it “cannot and [does] not speak for the lifelong residents of New Haven.”
Instead, the endorsement is directed “to our fellow students as a group that dedicates significant time to government, policy and community advocacy in this city.”
Elicker has run his campaign as a grassroots effort. As he did in the 2013 mayoral election, he is participating in the Democracy Fund, New Haven’s public financing program. As part of the program, each unique donor is capped at $390 — an order of magnitude less than the legal limit. Harp has never participated in the program. The first point of the Dems’ endorsement highlights Elicker’s decision to participate in such a program as the antithesis of the “corruption in New Haven’s current mayoral administration.” In an FBI subpoena from earlier this summer, federal agents requested records involving three of the city’s projects, including a youth center-homeless shelter project that was abandoned.
The endorsement also cited Elicker’s commitment to holding Yale more accountable to the city. He has explicitly called for the University to up its financial contributions to New Haven and improve its development practices.
The Dems’ last point in its endorsement referenced several of the summer’s hot-button policy issues, including those related to public health — specifically lead paint regulation — and education. Harp’s administration fell under fire over the summer for loosening lead paint regulations and protections, which are known to negatively affect child development. The decision will especially affect low-income and under-resourced communities in New Haven.
Jacob Malinowski ’20, president of Yalies for Justin Elicker, told the News that it was “no surprise” that the Dems endorsed Elicker, “after [Elicker’s] impressive display at the forum on Friday.”
Harp has earned significant labor support — Locals 34 and 35, Yale’s technical and clerical and maintenance unions, respectively, have backed the mayor’s race, as have alders affiliated with the city’s unions. She also earned the official endorsement of the city’s Democratic Party.
Moving forward, White told the News that the organization would, “make sure membership is aware of opportunities to volunteer with the Elicker campaign,” but organizationally, the group will not participate in canvassing prior to the primary.
Before entering the mayoral race in January, Elicker served as the executive director of the New Haven Land Trust, a local environmental non-profit. He has also served as an educator and was a two-term alder for Ward 10, which includes the East Rock and Cedar Hill neighborhoods.
Harp is New Haven’s 50th mayor and the first black woman to serve in the position.
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